Last week, Vault released its latest Vault Banking 50, a ranking of the best investment banks to work for in North America. And for the first time, a non-bulge-bracket bank ranked No. 1 in the rankings: The Blackstone Group. As mentioned, Blackstone's rise to the top spot underlined the fact that many of the largest Wall Street banks have grown somewhat out of favor with jobseekers as well as with clients and employees, not to mention the public, which has little to no empathy for the institutions largely responsible for the financial crisis of 2008 (and those largely responsible for several high-profile scandals since then).
In any event, the Vault Banking 50 was based on a survey we administered this past spring and early summer to thousands of professionals who work in investment banking. And in the course of that survey, we asked professionals to rate their firms in 26 so-called quality of life areas, including work/life balance, culture, compensation, promotion policies, business outlook, and diversity hiring. While numerous bankers and traders sang the praises of their firms (both large and small firms) in these areas, there were plenty of professionals who sang different songs—songs of frustration, disillusionment, and disgruntlement. And it's these latter songs and singers (all of which come from the largest firms on the Street, which is to say the bulge bracket) that are featured below. That is, below is a select survey comment from what we've determined (from the latest Vault Banking Survey) to be the 16 most disgruntled young professionals on Wall Street (in ascending order from least to most disgruntled):
16. "If you don't learn everything you need to know about the job before or during the formal training course, then it's sink or swim. No seniors (from associate up to MD) want to teach an analyst how to do anything. There is a 'figure-it-out' culture that wastes time, money, and resources. I've been told that bulge-bracket investment banking used to be an apprenticeship business. All I know is that, this day and age, that couldn't be farther from the truth. If you know you want to be a banker these days, you're best suited to go get an undergraduate business degree and brush up your Excel and accounting skills."
15. "Some days I crank from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. Other days I come in at 11 a.m. and have nothing to do. Both of which I'm fine with. However, it's the weekend unpredictability that sucks. Seniors treat Saturdays, Sundays, and major holidays as if they're normal Monday mornings. There's no acknowledgement that you could be relaxing with friends or family, and, to say the least, they're unapologetic about pulling you into the office on an off day. It's painful to cancel consecutive vacations or long weekends that you've planned weeks and sometimes months in advance. The unpredictability is the one factor that makes investment banking not worth it."
14. "The callback for my Super Day was a disaster. After I thought that I'd aced the interview, I received a call from HR saying that I wouldn't be extended an offer. Ten minutes later, HR called back to say that they were reading off the wrong list. It was traumatic."
13. "Sadly, the culture has deteriorated significantly since I started working here. While in the past, striving for excellence in all aspects of our business (client service, profitability, creativity, ethics, etc.) formed the foundation of the firm's culture, it now seems to be primarily driven by internal politics. Managers don't embrace diversity of thought (or other types of diversity for that matter) but prefer to have their own ideas and practices confirmed by those that report to them."
12. "We put far too much emphasis—it's at least 75 percent of the hiring decision—on the appearance of enthusiasm and a willingness to obey without question. Which is easy to fake, and if the firm's really doing interesting work in an interesting way, it sells itself, whereas intelligence, creativity, and critical thinking are rare and add real value. That said, for many of the MDs what they care about is someone that says "Yes!" right away to everything, and having intelligence, critical thinking or creativity doesn't really matter, so maybe it makes sense to recruit for the qualities you use."
11. "Informal training and mentoring is rife with politicking and a general approach of the old school Wall Street mentality: 'No one helped us, so figure it out.'"
10. "Quality of life is poor. The culture of sales and trading is not supportive or understanding of errors, even when errors are commonly made by senior people. There's little in the way of support for employees, and the mentorship programs are weak. Support for diversity is nonexistent, and the culture is extremely inflexible in terms of allowing people to have a personal life/take care of personal things."
9. "Low pay. Slow career trajectory. Who cares about quality of life in banking?"
8. "I'm leaving the firm at the end of my two-year program partially due to the poor quality of life. In terms of firm culture, I'd say it's much less international than what I was expecting. We work with partners in other countries, but the home office is largely made up of Americans. One thing I find particularly dissatisfying about the culture is the constant excuse making for our perceived poor performance comparable to other banks: "Well, we're not so and so because we just had a difficult time during the financial crisis, etc." Further, as a second-year analyst, I've never written an email to a client, much less go to a meeting. It's detrimental to my development not to be able to go to even one meeting a year to see the work that I do in action and put everything into context. Regarding interaction with supervisors/managers, I've had particularly poor experiences. The two I've been under were not particularly interested in me and my development. In addition, it seems that there's a certain amount of abuse of power, such as staffing preferred analysts on their projects (though I'm unsure how heavily this occurs in other groups and banks). I've not experienced a consistent effort on the part of the firm to maintain work/life balance. I've worked holiday weekends and many a time done weekend work or late night work unnecessaarily. Probably, as in most groups/banks, senior bankers don't think ahead in terms of our time and getting projects to us with that consideration in mind."
7. "The culture of the firm—either positive or negative—is outweighed by the individual group in which an analyst works. Analyst experiences depend largely on the culture of the group they work for. As for my group, the culture is caustic, judgmental, and doesn't foster mentorship or teamwork."
6. "The firm's green initiatives are a marketing gimmick. If you're really serious about reducing waste and improving efficiency, you'd regulate the grotesquely wasteful and purely self-indulgent behavior of senior employees, like having a paper copy of a presentation driven to Connecticut by a private driver instead of sending it by email (you waste paper, gasoline, and pay a driver to add what client value?). You can optimize the elevators all you want and that's great, but as long as you let totally unproductive gross waste like that continue, it's clear you're doing it for the headlines, not the environment. Not that I really care, but at least fake it better."
5. "The firm lacks any clear set of promotion guidelines. It rewards short-term 'gainers' rather than long-term 'thinkers.' Most senior-level managers are the ones who caused the crisis and are still the ones being protected, promoted, and paid well. It limits the promotion of fresh young talent and new ways of thinking. Thus the low stock price. Out with the old and in with the new … if you've been at the firm for 30 years, then, so far, you've been part of three financial crises. Think about that."
4. "I'm very well paid and work good hours, but I'm quitting this firm because of the lack of accountability at the senior level. Insulting and cursing at junior employees or telling elaborate lies in order to dismiss them or blame them for your own mistakes should not be acceptable behavior by any member of any organization, regardless of how senior they are or how important they are to the business. There's no mechanism in place to regulate or correct the behavior of VPs and MDs, and no effort is made by the management team to oversee managers or hold them to any standard of behavior. This complete and utter lack of accountability at the senior level leads to bad business decisions and frustration in the junior ranks. Eventually, the lack of vision, effort, and integrity among senior managers will destroy this firm."
3. "We're probably the worst compensated bank on Wall Street. Seems peers in every capacity are more highly compensated. Which is strange. And the deferral program breeds an environment of low attrition. Part of the evolutionary process at any firm involves the seniors/vets moving on to do other things. That simply hasn't happened as much over the past five years because people refuse to leave deferred/unvested comp on the table. This leads to people then willing to be part of headcount reduction as they receive severance pay plus immediate deferred vesting. In turn, it creates a different environment internally—more politically driven."
2. "Salary scale is pretty much in line with the rest of the street. Bonuses suck. I've been flat bonus for three years. It's roughly 40 percent below what other traders are getting at other shops on both the buy side and sell side. The firm may not be losing people at these distressed compensation levels, but they sure are losing productivity. Pay your producers. Pay the people on the desk. Pay the people in the trenches. Then the firm will make more money. You can't expect us to work hard, deal with all of the structural changes, both internally and externally, and then say, 'Oh, you did a great job, but we can't pay you.' I think deferred comp is fine. Just pay me. I don't care how and when. I think deferred comp promotes two-way loyalty (loyalty being something the firm is seriously lacking). Job security is HUGE. I would be willing to accept less pay if there was some level of job security without this arbitrary and random slicing and dicing that has come every January. Health insurance is out of control. I'm in my twenties and paying $2,300 in annual premiums plus a $500 deductible, for what? My annual physical? Out of control. Perks website sucks. Nothing more that I can't get from the vendor itself. Drop that program. Pay for the entire monthly gym membership. Maternity leave: must be nice for women. You go on maternity leave, I get stuck doing your work. The firm doesn't pay me extra. Hmmmmm. Something wrong with this picture? I think so. If the firm paid me to do your job, then I probably wouldn't mind. That said, there aren't many women here at the firm, but the ones that are here are treated overly well in some vain attempt to 'promote women' at the firm. Sounds like overcompensating to me (one too many lawsuits I imagine). I think we do need more women. Promote it through culture and promotion. Not perks. Ethnic minorities: I just stood up and counted six black people on the entire trading floor. Hmmm. Problem? I think so. Gay people? Are there gay people here? Yes, but I think the firm much prefers we keep that to ourselves. I think the current culture 'allows' gays to be here with phrases like 'I don't have a problem with that' but would prefer they 'didn't make much trouble.' Promotion? Limited at best. Philanthropy? Please leave me alone. I can barely pay my rent. Let the managing directors get out their checkbooks. I think the most frustrating thing is all the advertisements I get for volunteering. And how am I supposed to get time off of the desk for that?"
1. "The best part of the job is it ends after two years. The worst part is associates treat you like a resource. Two years feels like five years."
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2014 Vault Quality of Life Rankings
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